Best Online Certificate Programs for Accounting: A Guide to Online Programs for 2022

Best Online Certificate Programs for Accounting: A Guide to Online Programs for 2022
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Automation has replaced a large section of the workforce, including bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks (Dizikes, 2020). However, automation only eliminated manual processes’ discomfort. Laborious, error-prone tasks will no longer prevent accountants from evaluating and interpreting data (Willcocks, 2020). The best online certificate programs for accounting covers the skills that prospective accountant needs to meet any business’s financial documentation needs.

In the accounting profession, a certificate in accounting is considered the best foundation for a degree in accounting, which could eventually lead to becoming a certified public accountant (CPA). Most CPAs started with a certificate, worked as bookkeepers or accounting clerks, and after gaining experience took the next step towards a bachelor’s degree. The online Certificate in Accounting provides the foundational knowledge necessary to land an entry-level job in any industry.

A 2019 report from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) reveals that the number of students taking the CPA exam has seen a steep decline in the last 10 years (Controller’s Council, 2021). The job outlook provided for this particular set of skills by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) has been declining, with a -6% projection from 2019 to 2029. Accounting practitioners, however, are not surprised. Given the ‘disruptive technology’ that is predicted to eliminate the job of accounting clerks, bookkeepers, and auditing clerks, prospective students have chosen to enlist in other postsecondary programs. This decline in interest in the accounting profession has resulted in a shortage. This shortage, however, can be your opportunity.

This article contains guidelines on choosing the best online certificate programs for accounting. The differences between an online and traditional certificate in accounting will be discussed, as well as the requirements for admission, what to expect in taking the program including a list of courses to expect, and the things to look for in an online certificate in accounting program.

Best Online Certificate in Accounting Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Certificate in Accounting
  5. How much does an online Certificate in Accounting cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an online Certificate in Accounting?
  7. Courses to Expect in Online Certificate in Accounting
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Certificate in Accounting

Can you get a certificate completely online?

A fully online Certificate in Accounting is offered by almost all postsecondary institutions. Learning key accounting concepts can set you to succeed in any industry because every organization needs the services of a bookkeeper or an accounting clerk. Online degree programs in accounting is a viable alternative for those who want to have formal education in the field of accountancy but do not have time to attend on-campus classes.

Online certificate courses in accounting equip students with a foundational knowledge of basic accounting practices. Accredited institutions offer online degree programs in accounting that can fit well into your busy schedule. Fully online Certificate in Accounting programs are accessible, flexible, and more affordable. If you are keen on exploring a career in accounting, enrolling in an online certificate course program is for you.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Will employers take my online certificate seriously?

Online accounting certificates are recognized by employers, especially those accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). As with any other degree, accreditation matters more than the mode of course delivery – whether traditional or online. Since an online certificate in accounting represents a base knowledge in the field, employers equally consider these credentials.

Are online certificate programs recognized all over the world?

Similar to online degree programs in accounting, certificate in accounting programs are globally recognized. An umbrella organization of accreditors is focused on upholding the standards of quality accounting education. When looking for an online Certificate in Accounting program, look for AACSB-accredited programs. Employers always look for quality graduates from accredited business schools. AACSB-approved certificate in accounting programs are recognized worldwide by employers and universities.

Online vs. Traditional Certificate in Accounting

Most certificate programs, also known as diploma programs, take around one year and covers the core courses needed for particular jobs. The coursework prepares you for an entry-level position or as a junior accountant for a small or medium-sized business. Certificate in accounting programs are aimed at new accounting students. The foundational courses may be transferred to accounting associate degree or bachelor’s degree programs. Both the traditional and online certificate in accounting programs are considered as an excellent stepping stone not just towards an accounting career, but to any business-related field because of the in-depth accounting knowledge and general business studies it provides the student.

Completing an accounting certificate means earning foundational knowledge in the field of accounting. Certificate in accounting holders may take on the role of an accounting clerk, financial clerk, bookkeeper, and other entry-level accounting positions. They are also qualified for the administrative assistant role, which is a more general position. While the program curriculum is the same for the traditional and online certificate programs, the online format offers advantages in terms of schedule flexibility, overall cost, and learning experience.

male female ratio in accounting jobs

Flexibility

Studying online provides flexibility to the learner. Depending on the institution, you may choose between synchronous and asynchronous learning. Although you are studying online you may choose the synchronous format if you wish to interact in real-time with your peers and instructors. On the other hand, asynchronous learning is recommended if you prefer learning on your own at your most convenient time. This flexibility advantage, however, also requires self-discipline and effective time management.

Affordability

One major advantage of studying online is the affordability advantage. Your transportation and other on-campus expenses are eliminated from the overall cost – room and board plus meal plans – which could roughly cost $13,000 per year (Nesbit, 2021). Most institutions charge a different per credit hour rate for in-state students, while some charge a similar rate for both in-state and out-of-state online students. Taking into account all the costs associated with attending certification or diploma programs, the online option is more affordable compared to the traditional format.

Learning Experience

A study by McCarthy et al. (2020) entitled “Intermediate accounting and auditing: Does course delivery mode impact student performance?” examined accounting courses taught in three delivery modes – online, hybrid and face to face – and found that “intermediate accounting students in the online and hybrid modes significantly outperformed students in the face-to-face mode. Auditing students in the online mode significantly outperformed students in the hybrid and face-to-face modes.” Published in the Journal of Accounting Education, this research did not just strengthen the legitimacy of online accounting education but also supported the enhanced level of learning provided by online courses.

Online instruction makes use of technology in teaching, which is able to tap into the different learning preferences of students. This makes the online learning experience more effective for some students. Studies have also established that students prefer online learning to the traditional model because it allows the student to process information and concepts at longer time intervals.

Is an online certificate cheaper?

Online certificates would typically cost the same as on-campus certificates as the cost is determined by the rate per credit hour. Compared to an undergraduate associate or bachelor’s degree in accounting, however, the full cost of an accounting certificate costs less, which makes it an excellent alternative for students who are looking for affordable career-oriented programs that can open opportunities for an entry-level job.  An online Certificate in Accounting can lead to accounting and bookkeeping careers, even without a college degree.

Is an online certificate as good as a regular certificate?

Colleges and universities offer the same curriculum for traditional and online certificate courses in accounting. The certificate in accounting that you will earn online is accredited by the same accrediting agency that evaluates the traditional accounting programs. In the same light, the credits that you will earn in an accredited online Certificate in Accounting will be recognized as you pursue a higher-level accounting degree.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How much does an online Certificate in Accounting cost?

The cost of an online Certificate in Accounting differs among institutions. Total cost may reach between $2,000 and $12,000, within the range of  $200 to $400 per credit. While some colleges charge higher rates for out-of-state students, most schools charge the same credit per hour rate to both in-state and out-of-state students. Some colleges charge additional costs for online programs for support services, online course and program development, and even online program marketing. These and other information on the overall cost can be requested from the institution. Students interested in an online Certificate in Accounting may also avail of financial aid in the form of federal student loans,  grants, and scholarships.

Is an online Certificate in Accounting worth it?

In the post-industrial economy, there are three pathways to good jobs – high school education, middle skills, and bachelor’s degree. Recent research by Georgetown University evaluated the labor-market value of associate degrees and certificate programs and found that these programs influence future earnings as they are tightly linked to specific occupations. Since the 1980s the bachelor’s degree has been the gold standard for stable employment and lifetime earnings, but the study revealed that it is no longer the only route.

Certificate programs and associated degrees are considered as the middle-skills pathway – the education level between the high school diploma and the bachelor’s degree. The middle-skills pathway is growing rapidly but largely remains uncharted territory. About 94% of certificate programs and 57% of associate’s degree programs are career-oriented (Carnevale et al., 2018).

Being almost exclusively career-oriented, certificate programs provide a distinct advantage in today’s knowledge- and service-based economy. Online Certificate in Accounting qualifies graduates for entry-level jobs where they can gain valuable experience and income close to an accounting degree salary.

By earning an online certificate course in accounting, graduates would also be able to build an academic base that would prepare them for the next level. You can do more with an accounting degree apart from continuing further to an online Master’s Degree in Accounting.

accounting annual salary

What are the requirements of an online Certificate in Accounting?

An online Certificate in Accounting prepares the student for various possible positions within any industry. While online degree programs in accounting could range from 2 to 4 years, the online certificate course can be completed in 1-2 years. The online Certificate in Accounting covers major foundational topics including basic accounting principles, fundamentals of taxation, payroll accounting, and personal finance. Given this, the prospective student is expected to be good not just in number crunching but also in analyzing data. Also included are coursework in micro and macroeconomics, business law, and accounting technology.

Admission Requirements

To apply for an online Certificate in Accounting program, prospective students need to submit a high school diploma or equivalent, including transcripts. In some schools, there is a minimum GPA requirement, plus an exam on English proficiency. Once you have chosen your online Certificate in Accounting program, you may check the additional requirements with the institution.

General Requirements

Online students are expected to have excellent time management skills and a high level of self-motivation. Self-regulation is important in online learning as you are in charge of your own learning. Having an adaptive mindset is important, as well as having a dedicated place for your online studies. Research has shown that for online learners to get the most out of online learning, the ability to self-regulate should be present (Wong et al., 2018). While competency with online technologies would be highly desirable, a mind that is open to learning is enough to get you started.

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

The online Certificate in Accounting student should have a laptop or desktop with a microphone and web camera. A high-speed internet connection would assure smooth learning sessions as some coursework would involve watching video lectures or synchronous discussions. You will be advised by the institution of the minimum system requirements that you need to have in your device so it would work seamlessly with the online platforms and learning management systems used by the school.

projected demand growth of billing and invoicing skills

Courses to Expect in Online Certificate in Accounting

The purpose of accounting education as described by Littleton (2016) is to train the student to provide insight into the results of management decisions and by doing so, learn how to become professional accountants. The courses in online Certificate in Accounting provide fundamental accounting concepts and principles which gives the student a solid foundation for starting a career in accounting.

Financial Accounting. This course will introduce the students to the steps in the accounting cycle, including the preparation of financial statements that comply with established industry standards. The aim is to develop skills in analyzing and communicating financial accounting information, and a deeper understanding of the accounting procedures that lead to the production of this information.

Managerial Accounting. This course connects the dots on the relevance of accounting in the overall performance of an organization. Students will learn how both short-term and long-term business decisions affect the financial performance of the firm, and how the accounting process can influence the growth strategies of the organization.

Intermediate Accounting. This introductory course discusses accounting cycle concepts, including journal and adjusting entries. Recording more complex financial elements will be introduced in this course which will familiarize the student with more intricate accounting scenarios. Students will also learn theoretical frameworks and integrate them in the preparation of financial statements that adhere to various accounting standards and regulations.

Cost Accounting. This course teaches the application of accounting practices and concepts in classifying, recording, and reporting cost data. Students will also learn to analyze how costs behave, and their relevance in the overall planning and control process of management. Along with special problems in cost accounting, this course will teach the student how to examine budgeting, standard cost, including job order and process.

Federal Taxation. Focused on current tax laws, this course trains the students on identifying relevant source documents as needed in preparing federal tax returns for individuals. The application of appropriate tax laws for specific circumstances forms part of this course, including the tax liabilities of individuals. The student will also learn how to communicate various tax return information to individuals.

Computerized Accounting. Using various accounting software, this course covers the accounting cycle for service and merchandising, as well as other types of businesses.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Things to Look for in an Online Certificate in Accounting

While almost all postsecondary institutions offer online programs in accounting, you should have a clear set of guidelines in choosing an online Certificate in Accounting program. The following are the most important factors that you have to consider in selecting your online certificate program.

Accreditation

The primary accrediting body in the field of accounting education providers is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). All types of accounting programs – online and traditional – should be accredited by an agency or organization that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Program-specific accreditation is also awarded to online accounting programs by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). Accreditation by these organizations means that the professors, curricula, resources, and other program aspects comply with quality standards. Having these accreditations also assure you that your certificate will be recognized by employers and other institutions should you decide to pursue next-level accounting education. Check if the college offering the certificate program in accounting has been accredited by one or all of these organizations.

School Reputation and Faculty

The quality of education or training largely depends on the skills and knowledge of the faculty that delivers instruction. Choose an institution that has a roster of faculty that are experts in the field of accounting, with a strong background in the industry. Institutions post a profile of their faculty, which you may review to aid you in choosing your program. Professors and instructors that have worked as CPAs, audit managers, controllers, CFOs, and other specialized positions in the accounting industry should be preferred as they can impart practical knowledge and valuable experience. And since most of them are practitioners, they can expand your network after you have completed your online Certificate in Accounting program.

Student Resources

As an online Certificate in Accounting student, you have to check whether the school offers the resources relevant to your program – latest accounting software such as Intuit Quickbooks, document management software such as Adobe Acrobat, and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software such as Oracle Hyperion or NetSuite ERP.  Skills in using these types of software are among the top technology competencies required by employers, thus part of your program should be to equip you in using these accounting tools.

Aside from providing these technology tools that are essential in your certificate program in accounting, you should also look for student support services. Most schools have a dedicated support team for online students that can be accessed via web or through telephone. These student services are ready to assist you in any concern related to your online studies. You can also find schools that have career counselors who can connect you with accounting firms and corporations to help you land internships and jobs after graduation.

salary benefit of account management skills

A Path of Diverse Opportunities

No amount of technology can replace the judgment of an experienced accountant. The online Certificate in Accounting opens multiple career pathways, not just in accounting, but also in finance. The courses that you will take in this program are relevant for every type of business, and in any type of organization because there is always a need for someone to handle financial documentation. The career-specific training that you will earn from an online accounting certificate can give you a significant headstart towards a promising career in the accounting industry.

There is an ongoing accountant shortage as brought by the projections of disruptive technology eliminating the job of bookkeepers, accounting, and auditing clerks. But here we are in 2021, the accounting field has evolved by harnessing technology towards its advantage. Today accountants are in high demand for data analysis and as well as in generating insights that are valuable in formulating strategic business processes. Financial institutions are struggling to find qualified talent because most accounting graduates’ training in college has been so specialized (Controller’s Council, 2021). Graduates of certificate in accounting, on the other hand, have the general business skills that many CFOs are looking for. Thus if you are keen on starting a career in the industry, the online Certificate in Accounting is a good place to start.

 

References:

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), Occupational Outlook Handbook: Bookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerks, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/bookkeeping-accounting-and-auditing-clerks.htm#tab-9
  2. Carnevale, A.P., Strohl, J., Rideley, N. and Gulish, A. (2018), Three Educational Pathways to Good Jobs: High School, Middle Skills, and Bachelor’s Degree,  https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/3pathways/
  3. Carnevale, A.P., Garcia, T.I., Ridley, N. and Quinn, M.C. (2020), The Overlooked Value of Certificates and Associate’s Degrees: What Students Need to Know Before They Go to College, https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/subba/
  4. Controller’s Council (2021), The Growing Shortage of Accountants and CPAs,  https://controllerscouncil.org/the-growing-shortage-of-accountants-and-cpas/
  5. Dizikes, P. (2020), This was the year automation started taking over the workforce, World Economic Forum,  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/automation-robot-employment-inequality
  6. Littleton, A.C. (2016), The Purpose of Accounting Education, A. C. Littleton’s Final Thoughts on Accounting: A Collection of Unpublished Essays (Studies in the Development of Accounting Thought, Vol. 20), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 47-55. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1479-350420160000020021
  7. McCarthy, M., Kusaila, M. and Grasso, L. (2020), Intermediate accounting and auditing: Does course delivery mode impact student performance?, Journal of Accounting Education, Volume 46, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaccedu.2018.12.001
  8. Nesbit, J. (2021), Dorm vs. Off-Campus Apartment: How to Estimate What College Housing Really Costs, https://money.com/college-costs-housing-dorm-meal-plan/
  9. Willcocks, L. (2020), Robo-Apocalypse canceled? Reframing the automation and future of work debate, Journal of Information Technology, Vol. 35(4), https://doi.org/10.1177/0268396220925830
  10. Wong, J., Baars, M., Davis, D., Van Der Zee, T., Houben, G. and Paas, F. (2018), Supporting Self-Regulated Learning in Online Learning Environments and MOOCs: A Systematic Review, https://doi.org/10.1080/10447318.2018.1543084

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